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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (Blu-ray)
The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // Unrated // July 17, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 13, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The Case of the Scorpion's Tail opens with a murder. This is not terribly surprising, considering that we're talking about a giallo and all. However, it's not that kind of murder, and this isn't that that kind of giallo. We never actually meet Kurt Baumer; outside of photographs, the closest we come are repeated glimpses of the jet he's boarded, prior to its violent explosion mid-flight. Lisa (Evelyn Stewart) – the serially unfaithful widow he left behind – isn't the least bit devastated, making plans with a secret someone in Tokyo and arranging to collect on her late husband's million dollar life insurance policy in Athens. The closer she gets to the money, the more bodies start to pile up. Lisa herself is nearly added to that tally, rescued from a vengeful blade at the last possible moment by insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton).

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Thanks to Peter, Lisa is soon strutting around Athens with a million dollars – in cash, ill-advisedly – and preparing to catch the next first-class flight to Japan. The temptation is to say that you know what happens from there: masked killer, black leather gloves, gleaming knife, parade of mutilated corpses. And, yes, there is that, but there's nothing quite so simple about The Case of the Scorpion's Tail. Director Sergio Martino and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi were aware how well-acquainted their audience was with gialli and weren't content to deliver just more of the same*. There isn't from start to finish a singular protagonist. When I think of the giallo, I can't help but imagine an artist of some sort who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and is forced into the role of amateur sleuth. That's not the case here, as Lisa is a not-particularly-sympathetic schemer while Peter is literally an investigator by trade. The roles these characters would traditionally be thrust into are more layered, more complex, and less conventional than one would expect. The same holds true for most every aspect of the film, in fact.

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Part of the challenge in reviewing The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is resisting the urge to say more. It's a film that would continue to hold up marvelously even if its surprises had been spoiled beforehand, but I'd just as soon leave them for you to discover. The Case of the Scorpion's Tail's twists are daring and upend everything I thought I knew, and yet they're all well-earned. In a subgenre where shocks are invariably prized over logic, I'm not sure how often I can say that's the case. Gastaldi's screenplay is tightly constructed and nimbly paced. In the proudest Hitchcockian tradition, not a moment is wasted, and every action is significant. There's one Hitchcock film in particular that would make for an apt comparison, but again, to say more would give away more than I'd like. I frequently found myself struck by Martino's stylish direction, embracing off-kilter angles and unconventional movement, such as a oner in the police station with the camera perched above the cast. The violence is unforgettably gruesome, no matter how poorly some of the effects have aged. The majority of the film takes place in London and Athens, and The Case of the Scorpion's Tail takes full advantage of these international backdrops with some truly spectacular photography. There's a distinct element of socioeconomic strata that I can't help but find intriguing, not that this stops me from gawking at a yacht on the Greek seas with a bikini-clad bombshell of a French photojournalist (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key's Anita Strindberg) aboard. The whodunnit element is compelling, thanks to a sharply casted ensemble overflowing with personality and no shortage of potential suspects.

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While not a top-tier giallo, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail benefits from such a cleverly constructed screenplay, capable cast, and stunning visuals that I'm not all that concerned where it'd rank overall. Arrow Video's Blu-ray release is all the more worth seeking out thanks to its world-class presentation and a robust slate of extras, every one of which is essential viewing. Highly Recommended.


Video
Newly remastered in 2K from the original negative, Arrow Video's remaster of The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is surreally gorgeous. I mean:

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Speckling and the like are kept to a bare minimum. Its colors are striking and its fine, filmic sheen beautifully rendered, wholly free of any artifacting or intrusive manipulation. The scope image is crisp and immaculately detailed, to the point where I felt that I could discern, say, each individual window in the Palace of Westminster:

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I've consistently been impressed by the presentations of the gialli that Arrow Video has brought to Blu-ray over the past few years, and The Case of the Scorpion's Tail stands strong among the best of them.

Between the feature and its many accompanying extras, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail utilizes nearly every last byte of this dual-layer disc. As if it needs to be spelled out, the film is presented at its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.


Audio
The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is presented in both English and Italian. This extends beyond the pair of 24-bit, monaural PCM soundtracks; the opening and closing titles reflect the choice of language as well. Both tracks sound expectedly marvelous, and, as anyone reading this is almost certainly aware, neither of these languages is any more right than the other. All of the dialogue was recorded after the fact in any event, and it wasn't uncommon for an international cast of actors to be speaking several different languages when cameras were rolling anyway. Personally, I watched the film in Italian and sampled the English dub afterwards, and neither track leaves any room for complaint. Light background noise is easily ignored on both tracks. No dropouts, hard clipping, or pops ever get in the way. Every line is reasonably clean, clear, and discernable throughout, and other elements in the mix never struggle for placement. Well done.

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There are three English subtitle streams in all: a translation of the Italian dialogue, an SDH track for the English dub, and an English translation of the audio commentary.


Extras
  • Audio Commentary: Federico Caddeo wrote, directed, and edited two of The Case of the Scorpion's Tail's newly-produced interviews. Caddeo also moderates this commentary with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi from back in 2006, which has been conducted in Italian and is, of course, subtitled. The breadth of the conversation is impressive: international co-productions mandating credits for people who may not have contributed anything at all, how producers filming abroad would make sure to bring along their actors' wardrobe but not necessarily the actors themselves, the corrupt and infuriating censorship boards in Italy, how Italian actresses had fallen out of favor in their homeland, why having Italian actors even feign speaking in English would be ill-advised, and mafiosi and gypsies having to be bribed not to stand in front of the cameras during location shots, to rattle off just a few memorable topics. Gastaldi speaks at length about his longstanding collaboration with Luciano Martino, spanning some forty films in all, and noting how producers like Martino often enjoyed a better relationship with their screenwriters than their directors. He imagines how differently The Case of the Scorpion's Tail may have turned out if it had been directed by Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City) rather than the more refined, intellectual Sergio Martino. It's an endlessly engaging conversation, from the way he contrasts the way films were perceived and produced then versus now to his thoughtful breakdown of motives in crime fiction.

  • Under the Sign of the Scorpion (21 min.; HD): I'm not sure I've ever come across an interview that complained about Greek salads and rock-hard breast implants, but that's just a taste of what makes this conversation with actor George Hilton so memorable. It's one terrific story after another, including pointing out that it was he who introduced Edwige Fenech to Luciano Martino, the Martinos asking for a family discount when asking their new cousin-in-law Hilton to act for them, and that he was sufficiently business-minded to have co-founded his own film distribution company. Much of the conversation does, naturally, revolve around The Case of the Scorpion's Tail, a giallo he ranks up there with Argento's best, including what a wonderful time he had making the film and reflecting on many of his co-stars. It's also interesting that he speaks about dragging his face through fake sand, which director Sergio Martino contradicts in the disc's next interview.

  • The Scorpion Tales (47 min.; HD): Director Sergio Martino delivers an audio commentary's worth of conversation in half the time. There are entirely too many highlights throughout this interview to possibly list here, but to select a just a handful: the influence of Costa-Gravos' Z, drawing inspiration from Maria Martirano Fenaroli's all-too-real murder/life insurance scheme, trying to keep the pace so brisk that the film wasn't shaping up to meet its contractually mandated runtime, that there was less rivalry among Italian directors than one might expect, being all-but-stranded on a desert island by the Greek Navy, and detailing why exactly bottles of J&B are such a giallo mainstay. Martino speaks at great length about The Case of the Scorpion's Tail's cast, both on a professional and deeply personal level. A frequent touchpoint is comparing and contrasting filmmaking over the decades, such as the current equivalent to his perhaps excessive zooms and dangerous stuntwork that'd almost certainly be realized with a green screen nowadays. As compelling as all of The Case of the Scorpion's Tail's extras are, this interview is far and away my favorite.
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  • Jet Set Giallo (20 min.; HD): Giallo historian Mikel J. Koven begins by speaking to Sergio Martino's lack of a defined directorial style, standing in stark contrast to the likes of Fulci and Argento. His films are stylish but don't have that same signature that more revered Italian directors so often do, and by no means is that necessarily to his filmography's detriment. From there, Koven discusses the vicarious thrill of travelogue cinema, as few viewers could possibly afford to travel across the world in luxury like this. Also discussed are how The Case of the Scorpion's Tail bridges two eras of giallo storytelling, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi's experimentation within a few standard templates, and the cinematic shorthand to savvy filmgoers that plays into its casting.

  • The Case of the Screenwriter Auteur (16 min.; HD): While "Jet Set Giallo" argues that auteur theory does not apply to director Sergio Martino, this video essay by Troy Howarth makes the case that perhaps it does to endlessly prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Howarth examines the common threads among many of the films that Gastaldi had a hand in writing, particularly his some twenty gialli, including construction more logical and rigorous than that of other celebrated filmmakers and his more capable, more wholly realized female leads.

  • Trailer (3 min.; SD): Though presented in 1080p, this Italian trailer – with its "wait, what?!" comparisons to the likes of Battleship Potemkin and M – has been upconverted from a lower resolution source.

  • Image Gallery (2 min.; HD): Finally, a high-res slideshow highlights eleven lobby cards and a black-and-white production still.

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail boasts gorgeous new artwork by Chris Malbon, but if that's not so much your thing, the original Italian poster art – under the title La coda dello scorpione – is on the reverse side. It's a small detail, but I appreciate that even the title on the rear of the case reflects the Italian artwork when flipped.

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The first run includes a lengthy booklet with three essays, leading with Rachael Nisbet's "Re-evaluating The Case of the Scorpion's Tail: Sergio Martino's Hitchcockian Giallo". It's a comprehensive and insightful examination, including the way in which the film simultaneously embraces yet subverts giallo tropes, the complex narrative's manipulation of its audience's expectations, its unconventional (though inconsistent) gender politics that are rarely addressed in this sort of movie, and how The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is both enthralled by and critical of jet-set culture. Howard Hughes' "Out of the Shadows: The Film Music of Bruno Nicolai" charts the career of The Case of the Scorpion's Tail's composer, spanning most every conceivable genre under a startling array of directorial talent. Special attention is paid, of course, to this film in particular, as well as a number of his other giallo scores. Finally, Peter Jilmstad offers a sample of what his upcoming book, The Other Anita: The Life and Films of Anita Strindberg, may have to offer. He notes that Strindberg's stardom was never in doubt, with a profile in Life leading her to a stint as a TV hostess, fan mail from the likes of Billy Wilder, and an offer of a multipicture deal with Columbia. The many paths her life took before and after her memorable years in Italian cult cinema are discussed from there.


The Final Word
Stylish, suspenseful, and hellbent on subverting its audience's expectations, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is a worthy addition to Arrow Video's expansive giallo library – one that's made all the more compelling with several hours of engaging, insightful extras. Highly Recommended.
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